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Sheik Omar's Lawyer Ready to Face US Legal Challenge - 2002-04-10

The Manhattan lawyer arrested in New York Tuesday on charges of helping a Muslim cleric run his terror network from a prison cell in the United States said she is ready for a legal challenge.

Several people were indicted for providing material support to jailed cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for terrorist activities. But the arrest of his lawyer, Lynne Stewart, came as a surprise to many, and was especially alarming to her colleagues in the legal defense community.

Ms. Stewart was one of the lawyers for Sheik Abdel-Rahman during his trial in 1995. She kept communications open after he was sentenced. She is now charged with passing messages from the sheik to his supporters in the Egypt-based terror organization, the Islamic Group.

Lynne Stewart, speaking to reporters, suggested the legal battle is just beginning. "Prove it. Prove it. Prove it. I'm a lawyer. I fight for my clients. That's what my job is," Ms. Stewart said.

Ms. Stewart pleaded "not guilty" in front of a New York judge, and was released on $500,000 bail. "I'm not happy. But I know a good fight when I see it. I think this will be a very good fight. I think we can make the government put up or shut up here and I don't think they can put up," she said.

Defense lawyers are rallying behind Ms. Stewart, not necessarily on the charges of abetting terrorism, but on constitutional grounds. They fear the government is moving dangerously close to impeding the privileged relationship between lawyer and client.

Ron Kuby, a high-profile defense attorney, believes the Justice Department has actually stepped over the line. "This is an attempt to attack and intimidate the defense bar to discourage lawyers from coming forward and representing unpopular defendants in the future. I'm afraid they may very well succeed," Mr. Kuby said.

Ms. Stewart, considered by many a left-wing radical and a tough courtroom fighter, has had her share of unpopular defendants over a 40-year career. She is currently the lead lawyer for a Mafia hit man who is facing jail time on drug-trafficking charges.

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have seized papers and computers from the apartment of Arab translator Mohammed Yousry, who visited the sheik with Ms. Stewart and was also indicted. He, too, is out on bail. A third defendant from the New York area was denied bail and is scheduled for a hearing on Friday.